It's Sunday night on Shaftesbury Avenue a couple of weeks back, and Hill's "Pub Internationale" pageant is intoxicating the Lyric Theatre. In the audience, Bob Mortimer is sitting in the row behind Ronnie Corbett. Both have cause to look tense - Mortimerbecause Hill's vaudeville surrealism, high and low culture at the same time, owes a fair bit to him and Reeves; Corbett because Harry's "three-year-old adopted son" Matt Bradstock is at the centre of a restricted-growth gag repertoire that puts his own in the shade - but both are laughing, if not like drains, at least like urinals.
Like Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard, two established comic giants who both showed their mettle this year in the course of record-breaking theatrical engagements, Hill has the precious knack of being able to make a whole room happy. His bumbling demeanour - the flapping collars, the top-pocket full of pens - only sets a razor wit in sharper relief. "I went to a restaurant the other day called A Taste of the Raj. The waiter hit me with a stick and got me to build a complicated railway system."
Among those less rigorous about the need to divide up small-screen and live-performance personas, Jo Brand and Jack Dee dragged their high-powered TV sets up and down the country with tour itineraries to daunt Ffyona Campbell. Meanwhile, pawing the ground in the "most likely to" paddock: Alan Davies has honed his single-white-male routine to a hazy peak of perfection, and it will be fascinating to see how the inspiringly unpredictable Glaswegian Phil Kay reacts to his surprise Best Stand-Up coup at the British Comedy Awards.
Previous winner: 1993 Lee Evans (this award did not begin until 1993).